t’s been a long day: one meeting after another. You leave your office, happy the working day is finally over. You could head out, network until the early hours, but somehow it doesn’t appeal. What you need, more than anything, is to relax and de-stress.
You might be tempted to turn to the popular Scandinavian antidotes to stress, lagom and hygge. But are they really any good? Lagom, a Swedish word, can be translated as “in perfect balance”, or “just right”. Where lagom reigns, all is as it should be. Proportion is maintained: there’s neither too much nor too little… which is where the problem lies. Although lagom encapsulates nearly all aspects of a well-lived life, its puritanism isn’t compatible with the realities of the modern world. The problem with lagom lies with its emphasis on being a good person: a good person can never really relax. They’re too busy constantly weighing the ethical consequences of every little decision they make. “I could buy a nice pot of hummus to enjoy with dinner, but that plastic pot it comes in is so bad for the environment.”
Denmark, meanwhile, is renowned for its hygge – embracing ambience and luxuriating in leisureliness. Hygge is a mug of hot chocolate sipped near an open fire, soft woollen blankets and a row of leather-bound spines on the bookshelf. It’s those images we see in interior design magazines and on Instagram. And this is its failing: not all of us have the means to spend our days wrapped in cashmere, reclining on an Arne Jacobsen sofa on stormy autumn evenings. Hygge is like a Disney movie that leaves no place for the mess of real life.
But there is another Scandi option – the Finnish path to happiness. Unlike our lovely neighbours, the Finn relies not on lagom or hygge but kalsarikänni, a term that literally means “drinking at home, alone, in your underwear”. This may sound fanciful but at the heart of this approach lies a democratic ideal. “Pantsdrunk” doesn’t demand that you deny yourself the little things that make you happy or that you spend a fortune on Instagrammable Scandi furniture and load your house with more altar candles than a Catholic church. Affordability is its hallmark, offering a realistic remedy to everyday stress. Which is why this lifestyle choice is the antithesis of posing and pretence: one does not post atmospheric images on Instagram whilst pantsdrunk. Pantsdrunk is real. It’s about letting go and being yourself, no affectation and no performance.
It’s easy to see how pantsdrunk evolved as a response to the harsh Finnish environment, one of perpetual gloom and freezing temperatures for nine and a half months of the year. Look out of a window on a Finnish November day and much of the time it’s pitch dark and freezing, a lacerating sleet is falling and the pavements are crusted in ice and slush. Often the streets are deserted and human companionship requires a lengthy and unpleasant trek. And that’s at noon, the brightest point of the day. No wonder pantsdrunk came into being.
The liberating effect of this Finnish path to happiness derives from simple elements: comfortable clothes, alcohol imbibed in appropriate amounts and no intention of going out. That’s not to say that pantsdrunk needs to be a solo activity. It can also be enjoyed with a good friend, housemate or perhaps a relative. When practised properly, pantsdrunk with one’s spouse or significant other expands and deepens the relationship.
All you really need is the foresight to prepare. Pack the fridge full of budget-brand artisanal beer, stock up on dips, crisps and chocolate – and make sure you have the latest psychological drama ready to watch on Netflix. When you get home, immediately strip off your outer layers of clothing (the basic rule: take off anything that’s even mildly uncomfortable or formal). Dressing for pantsdrunk generally means undressing. Gradually you’ll reach the most pleasurable moment of your striptease: the slow peeling off of your sweaty socks from your feet, a sensation that deserves its own Scandi expression. Now saunter to the kitchen and grab one of the cold beers from the fridge. Sink down on the sofa in your underwear and let out a deep sigh of relief.
If you’re questioning the complexity of this formula, then consider the fact that pantsdrunk is not just Finnish folklore or a self-care phenomenon; it’s also official foreign policy. Almost three years ago, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Unit for Public Diplomacy launched two emojis of people drinking in their underwear in armchairs – a man in briefs with a beer and a woman with a glass of red wine – to represent Finnish culture.
As a lifestyle choice, pantsdrunk is not in conflict with lagom and hygge. They all spring from the same Nordic origins and share the same ultimate goals: optimal peace of mind, comfort and equilibrium. Each has been shaped by its own history, culture and national character. The difference between the three of them lies in their economic history.
When Finland declared its independence from Russia in 1917, it was a poor, agrarian country with a GDP barely grazing the global average. Life expectancy was low and child mortality high. Yet, in 100 years, Finland has become a post-industrial information society and the third most prosperous country in the world. It also achieved the highest total score in the UN’s 2018 World Happiness Report, ranked the most stable, the safest and best governed country in the world. It is also among the least corrupt and the most socially progressive. Its police are the world’s most trusted and its banks the soundest. Free healthcare and university education also helps when it comes to happiness.
Arguably, pantsdrunk is one more way to celebrate the importance of relaxation. Humorous as its approach may be, it is very much part of a serious commitment to self-care – even if it’s frivolous, we take it seriously. It’s also an attitude and philosophy that starts from inner peace. You don’t even have to drink alcohol to achieve it – it’s about taking time out, indulging in a little of what you enjoy and being authentic. Ultimately, the Finnish approach is closer to mindfulness than it is to the Nordic notions of hygge and lagom. A real pantsdrunk pro knows how to be his or her laid-back self, regardless of the circumstances – no styled Scandi interior required. Follow this philosophy and you are immersing yourself in true Finnish culture.
To order a copy of Pantsdrunk: The Finnish Art of Drinking at Home. Alone. In Your Underwear by Miska Rantanen, (Square Peg, £9.99) for £8.59, go to guardianbookshop.com
How to relax like a true Finn
Have the right materials in stock – your favourite craft beer, crisps, hummus, cheeses and biscuits are all key weapons in the pantsdrunk arsenal.
Find your most comfortable underwear – the really holey ones where you’ve forgotten their original colour. Perhaps invest in some wool socks, too. Pantsdrunk is not about getting wasted. Make sure you only drink according to your needs and abilities.
Pantsdrunk does not require expensive furniture and artisanal hot chocolate in the house – just your drink of choice, a comfy sofa and a TV show you’re happy to binge watch.
It isn’t puritanical. Want to eat two whole sharing bags of crisps? Fine, go for it.
Lots of lifestyle trends tell you to switch off your phones and get outside. Wouldn’t you rather be inside with a glass of wine, working your way through a series of cat videos?